What is a crowd crush or surge and how did it happen in Seoul


On Saturday – in what appears to be one of the deadliest disasters in South Korea since 2014 – nearly 150 people were killed in a stampede during Halloween celebrations in Itaewon, the first large-scale holiday for the party since the beginning of the pandemic.

The event can be described as a crowd crush or surge, but not a stampede, said G. Keith Still, a crowd safety expert and visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England. A crash or surge occurs when people are packed together in a confined space and there is a push-like movement that causes the crowd to fall. Essentially, Still said, a “domino effect.”

A stampede implies that people had room to run, which was not the case in Itaewon, he said. The more people that are in the crowd, the greater the strength of the crowd crowd.

“The whole crowd falls as one, and if you’re in a confined space, people can’t get back up,” Still said.

As human stamps, like the one near Mecca, they become deadly

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In a Twitter thread on Saturday, a person who said he was in the crowd described people “fall like dominoes and scream.”

“I really feel like I’m going to be crushed to death,” said another tweet. “And I’m breathing through a hole and I’m crying and I think I’m dying.” The person continued, writing that they were near the top of the crowd, crying, “Please save me!” and the people nearby pulled them.

During a surge, the pressure from above and below the people in the crowd makes it difficult to breathe because their lungs need room to expand. It takes about six minutes to go into compressive or restrictive asphyxia, the likely cause of death for people killed in a crowd, Still said.

People can also injure their limbs and lose consciousness when they struggle to breathe and escape from the crowd. It takes about 30 seconds of compression to limit blood flow to the brain and for people in a crowd to be sedated.

Still said that the increase in the crowd can be triggered by many tight situations, for example, when people push each other or if someone travels. But the events are not usually caused by people in distress or pushing to get out of a crowd. These reactions typically come after the crowd begins to collapse, Still said.

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“People don’t die because they panic,” he said. “They panic because they are dying. So what happens is, as the bodies fall, as people fall on top of each other, people struggle to get up and end up with arms and legs twisting together .

Similar events have occurred around the world, including this month in a football stadium in Indonesia, which left 130 dead, and last year at the Astroworld Festival in Texas, which left 10 dead.

Most of Astroworld’s dead victims were in a heavily packed area, the video timeline shows

At Astroworld, most of the fans who died were close to each other in the south quadrant of the place. The place had metal barriers surrounding it, which would have compressed people if a crowd had gotten close to them, which allowed no way to regulate the flow of people.

Although it happened in Itaewon on a street, the crowd was so densely packed that movement was extremely restricted and there was no way for people to get out vertically, said Norman Badler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studied crowd compression.

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In the last year, crowds have gathered more frequently since pandemic restrictions have been largely relaxed, another factor in the recent increase in crowds. More people are likely attending events like Halloween celebrations in Itaewon, Still said, because they have been limited for so long.

He added that the increase in mass gatherings that are now allowed highlights the need for crowd management training, which decreased when the pandemic hit because large events were uncommon.

Martyn Amos, a professor at the University of Northumbria in England who studies crowds, said those big events require proper planning and people who are trained to manage the crowd.

“The bottom line is that these incidents will continue to happen until we put in place adequate crowd management processes that anticipate, detect and prevent dangerously high crowd densities,” Amos said in a statement to The Washington Post.


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